This essay is part of the “Real Relationships Series” on the yellow couch. This series showcases the sometimes beautiful, sometimes agonizing, and often messy aspects of relationships through real-life stories told by brave men and women. The intent of these essays is not to convey perfection, offer judgement, or provide answers; Rather it is just to shed light and offer community in the face of struggles and triumphs. If you would like to participate (anonymously or not) in this series, please message Dr. Shiels here.
The following is the first-person account of a woman whose life circumstances have forced her to make an excruciatingly difficult decision: To temporarily move-into a room at her abusive ex’s residence or to live on the streets….
September 1st will make seven years since I re-claimed my freedom from you.
Every year I celebrate quietly by myself because that was the day that I found a little bit of confidence inside. The months leading up to this particular September have been hard to say the least, but at least I haven’t been depending on you. Depending on you to shelter me, clothe me, feed me and pay my bills. I also haven’t depended on you to tear me down and rip me apart over and over again.
Things change though. Landlords decide to vacate tenants and sometimes those tenants have nowhere to turn other than to a past they’ve left behind or to the streets and honestly, I’m thinking the streets might be better right now.
People have told me to “chin up” and “stay positive” that you’ve opened the doors here to me. They don’t know you like I do though. I can’t even begin to tell my closest friends the things you’ve done to me in the past. The reasons I’ve stayed awake and cried myself to sleep the past month. The reasons I waited until the last possible minute to vacate my house.
I sit here in the spare bedroom of the home we bought together 10 years ago. The room that was supposed to be for guests when they came to visit. The room my sister once camped out in when she was in between houses. The room that is now my prison.
The very room where you came to the first night I was here and stood in your underwear and a t-shirt casually asking me where our son was when you had just spoken to him an hour earlier and could now, like me, hear his iPod screaming in the bathroom as he showered.
I hear you in the kitchen slamming cupboard doors and plates down on the counter. Mumbling to yourself and all of a sudden I’m ushered back to a time when you were the master of my life. I close my eyes and I can see the eggshells on the floor just below my bed. If I think long and hard enough I can actually feel the broken shells piercing the tender flesh of my feet. That is what life was like with you before and what it’s slowly shaping into now.
Inside of me there is a scared young girl who shivers at the loud noises coming from where you are. She doesn’t know if you’re angry, enthusiastic or just being loud because that’s what you do now. She and I both fear it’s the anger.
On the kitchen table sits a bottle of Maker’s Mark. You’ve been sipping on it for a few hours now. Saying it’s because your joints hurt and it’s the only thing that helps you feel better. Part of me can understand that. I’ve drank before and still do to kill what hurts me inside. I’ve not drank now in a while. It’s been so long that just a glass of wine last night had me light headed and ready for bed.
Just the few minutes I stood at the counter pouring that glass gave you the impression that I was available for casual conversation. I took the bait and shared a few words with you.
You got really quiet in those few moments and I could feel your stare on my back. I glanced toward you with my eyes, not turning my head, and the look on your face said it all. Every bone in my body vibrated with terror because I knew what you were thinking.
You asked me to take off my top. I almost threw up in my mouth. My shoulders sagged and I blew the air that my lungs had been holding, slowly through my teeth. Part of me was so pissed I wanted to throw the wine bottle at you. How dare you take my kindness in speaking to you as a personal invitation like that. How dare you think that this arrangement was anything more than one person helping another out.
The other part of me felt two inches tall again. The control you once held over me reverberated through the air, briefly brought back to life. I heard you mumble something, just like in the past, and then you were gone to your room, shutting off the kitchen lights and slamming the door behind you. Standing in the darkness I heard myself whimper.
I suddenly saw myself from outside of my body. I was there standing against the other counter with my arms crossed tight over my chest, watching the fragile woman in front of me place her head against the refrigerator. Tears fell down her cheeks and she…me…I…ran to the prison room. There was no door to slam though and so we sat there on the bed and cried.
Suddenly I was back inside of my body and the wracking sobs that tore through me brought me to my knees. I fell to the floor by the bed and prayed for God to take this away. To give me some kind of peace in the days and weeks to come. Some kind of reprieve from the past until I could get out of here but I felt so alone and vulnerable.
I told two people what you asked of me last night. I tried to convey to each of them the horrible taste it had left in my mouth. I can’t do you justice. I can’t seem to explain the dread and vile feelings that flow through me when I look at you. When I hear your voice. It’s truly like a victim having to face their rapist again. I know what that feels like.
You disgust me. Everything about you disgusts me at this moment. Your act of “kindness” only has bad intentions behind it. I’m sure there is a minute part of you that is helping me because you want to do the right thing but your other motives are bigger and scarier than the insignificant speck of helpfulness you have inside of you.
You spout Bible scriptures to me daily and speak of how you know that the life you are leading is not favorable in God’s eyes and I listen. I listen because if I don’t you will be angry again. Tell me how sinful I am. How delusional I am. You are the delusional one.
I sit here tonight after spending most of my day hiding in a park because you were home from work, and I write this missive about how you still make me feel almost seven years later. How I thought forcing me to give up our son to you during the divorce was the worst thing you could ever do to me. I was so wrong.
You’ve given me a roof over my head once again and I am not alone, that’s true, but the worst thing you could have ever done to me is to attempt to hold me hostage emotionally once again.
I’m scared. Not for myself physically but for my mental health.
You are one of the darkest demons that I’ve kept locked away and I pray that you don’t find the keys before I can escape this dungeon that you call a safe place. Before the blackness closes in on me more than it already has.
Please give this anonymous poster some love by liking or commenting. And if you or someone you know is afraid for his/her safety in the home, please see refer to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
Stay strong. Remember, and try to always be, in the place of strength that lead you to leave seven years ago. Remember, this too shall pass. Big hugs and lots of encouragement from a stranger on the interwebs.
Thank you Carmen. Your words mean a lot. You really don’t know how much.